Urban Agriculture: CSA Can Satisfy Anyone

Mon, 08-29-2011
By: Mindy Sherman Hannigan

                Whether you have heard about one of the many local farmers’ markets emerging all over the city or have begun to wonder where your produce is being shipped from, you may not have heard of community supported agriculture (CSA). It’s a way to basically pre-order the closest, freshest and most sustainable produce and have it delivered directly to your home or neighborhood. It’s also a way to provide financial stability for community farms. This article will cover the basics for you so you can get on with enjoying local food.

                Fall and winter orders are still available, yet typical subscriptions vary from a full season membership, 3 month memberships , month to month and sometimes weekly memberships. The focus is on vegetables and fruits, but some have grown to include many items like dairy products, meat, eggs and more. So many subscription options exist now more than ever, beginning with the choice between at-home deliveries and pick up at the farm or city drop-off points.

                The pick-up locations and drop-off points cover the majority of Chicago, something Mayor Emmanuel has taken notice of in a new ordinance aimed at helping the thousands of residents affected by fresh food deserts. Finding a convenient farm is getting easier with guides like a map search of CSA programs and Farmers’ Markets from Local Harvest. The Local Beet also has a 2011 list, but their guide is more up-to-date than the Local Harvest map search. The lists and guides should contain reputable resources, but always be vigilant about the credibility of the organization you support. Some companies have found a way to serve as a middleman while advertising otherwise.

                The majority of CSA producers have offerings from the typical April to October growing season, although more and more are expanding to offer produce year-round. There is a shared risk and reward, as one receives a percentage of a farmer’s yield. For example, poor weather or pests could reduce what you receive, but your share of the crop would also increase if the farm had a great growing season. Some farmers and organizations exclusively sell their own produce and some participate with multiple farms. The size of your order can also vary, usually from half shares to full shares, but many share size options exist.

                Although most CSA produce is pre-packed by the farmer, some farms allow patrons to choose some of their own produce. Others even offer participants the chance to help out at the farm for credit towards their purchase. 

                Finding local food is getting easier and closer to our urban homes more so than ever before. Community supported agriculture provides diverse options loaded with benefits and is blurring the border between the farm and city. The next urban agriculture feature will be on farms operating within the city of Chicago.